Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Cultural Economy Moment?

The draft of my keynote presentation to "Media Technologies, Community and Everyday Life", histed by the Centre for Everyday Life at Murdoch University in Perth, WA on 2 Septmebrt, 2009, can now be accessed from Scribd here.

Please note that this is a draft completed in the hotel room, and without a Bibliography at this stage. A version will appear on the QUT ePrints site shortly.


JUstin O'Connor said...

The paper suggests that economics is not to be equated with neo-liberalism; but that cultural studies people collapse the two and thus are able dismiss the relevance of a multi-faceted economics discipline to the study of creative/ cultural industries and cultural value. In so doing they can use it to denounce anybody with whom they disagree with in a line of seemingly progressive solidarity with anyone deemed to be notionally progressive. It then goes on to show how there is no such thing as capitalism as such, no such thing as neo-liberalism as such and that all such accounts need to be historically situated. This is an odd turning of the tables on a cultural approach which has always stressed the a-historical notions of neo-classical economics and its ambitions to define a ‘pure market’. It is around the promotion of this ‘pure market’ and the appropriate governmental and institutional framework within which it is situated that is precisely the issue at stake in the political programme of ‘neo-liberalism’ of the Chicago school variety. It was the futility and political/ economic irresponsibility of interfering with such ‘laws’ which formed one of the foundational rhetorics of the transformation of the ‘polity’ in many western and non-western countries in the last 3 years. There are specificities of neo-liberalism, just as there are of capitalism, but to point this out is not to avoid the realities and consequences of this programme and in my view the damage it has done. This is in effect what the paper tries to do, neatly encapsulated by the equation of cultural studies' straw man neo-liberalism with the toxic waste of bad debts – as if in some way these two deserved one another. However viewed it was not those cultural studies people who warned against the untrammeled markets and their disastrous effects that caused this meltdown– it was those who continued to pursue the notion of pure market and who seem to have slid out scott free from this article.

Those economists the paper lists as winning the nobel prize were all critics of the ‘free market’, and it is doubtful that cultural studies people would have rejected their analyses. On the contrary, as the recent vogue for Polanyi attests. Cultural economy theorists draw heavily on this too, and often share similar concerns to those in cultural studies.

As to the substantive accounts of where economics can be helpful. The notion of social network markets is a case in point. In purporting to move from neo-classical economics it attempts to explain the creative industries and their ‘cultural’ or at least ‘creative’ value through reducing them to information about unknown goods acquired by the value others give them. It is a completely atomized view of cultural value. Equally it reduced this value to ‘the new’ as if that was all that mattered, and all the ‘altruism’ of shared creative production to ‘shadow markets of always-already potential markets. IN fact it is a souped up version of the ‘pure market’ of neo-liberalism. But like the Daleks who were once confined to their own time, and thus could be outmaneuvered by those with a real historical knowledge of how things evolve and change , this model has now been released to roam beyond the pure market and into the process of historical change itself, thereby bringing the shadow of darkness down across all history. Where is that tardis?

Terry Flew said...

Justin, with these sorts of posts you should be a blogger.

JUstin O'Connor said...

I should add that the paper uses Throsby, Garnham, yudice, Lash and Pratt in different ways to attest to the increasing implications of culture for the economic growth and policy. yet apart from Lash (who is more interested in founding a new sociology on spinoza and delueze) all of these are quite well known for their ambivalence to these developments. It is rather disingenuous to use them to make a point about culture/ econommis but not explore their anxieties aabout these developments. They cannot be reduced to the condemnation of neo-liberalism but they contain critiques of the market in various guises. For what it is worth, I do not think neo-liberalism explains the increased interaction between culture and economics; it is not a reduction of culture to the laws of the pure market, but a reconfiguration of their relationship in ways that give rise to other anxieties (which I share with Throsby, Pratt etc.). This is precisely the issue that much of cultural economic thinking sets out to confront, not to celebrate.

Terry Flew said...

Debates about neo-liberalism have an earlier history in Australia with critiques of what was known as "economic rationalism" under the Hawke and Keating governments of the 1980s and early 1990s.

This was also the period in which cultural policy studies emerged in Australia with authors such as Tony Bennett, Denise Meredyth, Colin mercer and Stuart Cunningham. Typically, they questioned the assumptions about "society" and "culture" that underpinned the neo-Habermasian critique of Pusey and others.

A key foundational text of this period is Ian Hunter, "Setting Limits to Culture", which can be found in Graeme Turner (ed.), Nation, Culture, Text: Australian Cultural and Media Studies, published by Routledge in 1993.